Monday, March 9, 2009

There's Probably Something to Talk About

ttc bus ad

Atheists are taking it to the streets in Canada, with the Atheist Bus Campaign. Some people are outraged; the ads have been banned in Halifax, but accepted in Toronto and Calgary. For what it's worth, I was reminded of a quote from Philosophy for Dummies which claims that "Atheism is an urban phenomenon."

Global TV's new investigative journalism show, 16x9 The Bigger Picture, ran quite a good story on the bus campaign and debate. Watch it! It might give us something to talk about...

tmlPersonally, I think this bus ad campaign gives us an opportunity to discuss something more significant than the Maple Leafs losing yet another game. All too often we spend most of our social time talking about nothing that really matters. This discussion, I think, matters. And on this, it would seem that many atheists in Toronto agree with me, a Christian! In the FAQ section of their website, they give this as the reason for the bus ad campaign:

Through our ads we hope to spark conversations between believers and non-believers so that we may better understand each other and learn from one another.

That sounds reasonable to me. The ads have given me a couple opportunities to have a couple very brief conversations and I hope for more, so here I am blogging about it. Post a reply, let's dialogue.

Now some Christians are among those who are outraged about these atheist ads appearing on buses. I would encourage a more even response. Outrage over Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code only worked to make it more popular. Rage at schools reading Harry Potter books or more recently The Golden Compass books also seems misplaced. We can do better than "rage" as we respond to popular things happening around us, can't we?

A retired professor of Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, who now serves at my church as an associate priest came up with a counter-slogan to the bus ad as well as some advice:

"There probably is a God--so stop worrying, the world is not a runaway bus."

That's theologian David Reed's offering, when asked to give an alternative to the atheistic slogan that's been plastered on [buses] .... Like his slogan, the approach Reed recommends in responding to these ads is creative and non-polemical: “Don't get grouchy and defensive and reactionary; treat it much more lightly.”

I agree with him (the full article can be found here). The atheists sponsoring these bus ads want to spark conversations, not fireworks, so let's talk. Maybe we will find it helpful to better understand where they're coming from, and maybe then they too would like to hear where we're coming from. And maybe we can go there together on the TTC.united church ad

P.S. Does anybody remember the bus ad that was all over buses everywhere promoting Die Hard 4? Isn't it odd that it was never controversial? I even looked up John 6:27 before I fully clued in.



  1. I have a question. What is it that these people who promote atheism are aiming to gain? I'm not sure if I worded that right. If they don't believe in God, are they more content knowing that they have influenced total strangers (who they'll probably never meet) into thinking the way they do? We as Christians are looking forward to better day - where our influence may be realized. What are they trying to achieve if they believe in nothing?

  2. From what I've read, they are trying to convince people to their view - you might call them de-vangelists. They're also allegedly trying to get dialogue going with theists (not just Christians).

  3. The ads were in response to Christian doomsday preaching that suggested that you would go to hell if you didn't believe in God particularly their belief system.

  4. It doesn't matter why they did it...I'm glad they did...let's hope it spurs some dialogue!

  5. Suggest is the key word Chad. And the ads you are referring to were in the UK where this ad campaign started. I'm not sure similar doomsday ads have run in Canada. The only ones I remember seeing on the TTC were from a group of churches that had messages like "Need help? Don't know where to turn? Jesus can make a difference...."

    I haven't been on the TTC for a while, but that's all I remember. No turn or burn as I recall.

  6. There are . Thats why they were brought here.

  7. Perhaps you should check out the website or listen to the Global documentary because I've not heard what you're claiming. Josh Trottier has been pretty clear about what prompted him to do this. it's a free society; I respect his intention of getting some conversation going.

  8. He was interviewed on CBC,s Metro Morning as well. They have the issue available for comments, but they don't seem to have the original interview.. The signs go up in May.
    In that interview he suggested that the ads were a counter weight to the Christian Fundamentalism ads.that are already posted on the TTC vehicles.

  9. I don't know about that Chad. When I go to , in answer to the question, "Why is there a Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign?" they say:

    "The Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign seeks to bring awareness to the general public about atheism, humanism, and the secularism. Through our ads we hope to spark conversations between believers and non-believers so that we may better understand each other and learn from one another. It was also created as a response to the multitude of religious advertisements around Canada. We think the advertisement of secular worldviews is long overdue, we want to to assert that it’s perfectly acceptable not to believe in any God or Gods and that there almost certainly isn’t any Gods or God despite what many religions will have you believe. We want people to know that we can live morally good, ethically sound, happy, and fulfilling lives without having to be religious or base our lives on the doctrine and theologies of religion."

    PLUS, when interviewed by Global's Darryl Konynenbelt, Josh Trottier can be heard saying something like 'many Canadians think respect means silence.' Then more clearly Justin Trottier of the Free Thought Association of Canada says, "We wanted to tell atheists and skeptics of all denominations... that it was ok to come out of the closet."

    Chad, I regularly rode the TTC for one year and since I still commute into Toronto, I've seen a lot of bus ads over the last three years. I do not ever remember seeing any "hellfire" kind of ads. Trottier says he wants the same right as those placing Christian ads and I agree with his point. It's fair.

  10. Hey Chad, I looked into it some more. As you know, Ottawa's OC Transpo said, "No" to the ads, but earlier this week City Council decided to override that decision and approve the ads.

    Anyhow, had a link to a blog that linked to some of the ads that have run on OC Transpo; these included ones I have seen on the TTC. I'll post them in a new blog entry. Have a look, you won't get burned by hell fire from these ads.

  11. I like the [atheist bus] ads - gets people talking instead of sleepwalking through life.

  12. I've also been involved in some email discussion about these bus ads. A rather intense debate developed about eternal judgment and who will stand before God.

    My reply: Are you guys at the right bus stop? This email thread was for talking about the atheist ads on buses and what we as believers in God think about them. In the 16x9 Big Picture documentary, the Christian, Jew and Muslim all agree that one thing that they did not like about the atheist ads was the implication that believers do not enjoy life.


    All three expressed the concern that people out there actually think believers are constantly worried (about pleasing their God?) and not enjoying life. That concerns me too. That's why I think the counter ad run is so brilliant:


    It's simple and effective at communicating our belief as Christians that Jesus offers rest to the weary, hope instead of anxiety and a joy that can endure even when life is rough. Now, I may question if this is the truly same experience for the Muslim and Jew, but based on the video, this is what both the Rabbi and Muslim said. We would all seem to agree that life is better WITH God rather than without God.

    I still can't get over that picture in my mind of Charles Templeton's last interview, declared agnostic, with tear filled eyes saying to Lee Strobel, that he misses Jesus. Life without God can be very difficult, worrisome and tearful.

  13. Why is it that believers don't enjoy a good life? Maybe it's because they think they will go to Hell. Too bad for them.

  14. Why on earth do you think believers don't live a good life???? why are you so hard on Xian fundamentalists yet give atheist fundamentalists a break? I think they both should be put in a barn.

  15. Christian fundamentalists are more dangerous.

  16. absolutely disagree - they're all nutbars. you're not being fair (or maybe you're just giving the fundamentalist atheists a break for some reason)

  17. I'm still curious about the "nutbars" that supposedly are behind our discussion here, the ones who displayed Christian fundamentalist bus ads prompting atheists everywhere to unite and strike back. This is what you alleged Chad, but I don't see the support for it.

    Chad you were claiming that the Free Thought Association was running the new bus ad in response to Christian fundamentalist bus ads which routinely condemned people to hell. Personally I take Josh Trottier at his word that their intent is to spark discussion and affirm atheism as a moral and beneficial alternative to theism.

    In the next blog posting, I displayed almost all the Christian ads I could find that have run on the TTC in the last few years. I couldn't find these Christian Fundamentalist ads condemning people to hell that you and the British lady representing the Humanist Society claim were run. Perhaps there's a difference between what some people perceive and what is actually in print.

  18. As a Muslim who was born and brought up in Toronto, I think the objectivity that we display can sometimes get overbearing. I do not support removing any ads based on Religion or Ideology. This will set a dangerous precedent. Thank you for understanding that a discourse inevitably ads to human intellect.



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